At the commencement of the seminar, Dr. Ghadir Nasri as chairman, offered his condolences over the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani and thanked the attendants. He then went on to provide a brief overview of Iran’s current situation and the significance of the current regional and global circumstances at both the national and the international levels. Dr. Nasri highlighted the vital role of both the Iranian Political Science Association and The Iranian Peace Studies Scientific Association in designing a scientific and rational approach to explaining current issues from a political science perspective in light of the critical situation facing the country.
General Hosein Alaii, professor at Imam Hosein University and former commander of the IRGC Navy was the first lecturer offering his views on the current state of affairs throughout the region and Iran’s regional role in this context. Expressing his strong condemnation of the US president’s highly anticultural remarks, General Alaii argued that such remarks would only serve to intensify the Iranians’ long-standing distrust towards the US government and its policies. He also described the US hostility towards Iran in three broad arenas, namely Iran’s nuclear program, its regional influence and its missile capabilities, citing the US opposition to the Iranian nation’s independence and strength, arguing that the United States ostensibly wishes Iran to be a so-called normal state, which in fact is no less than total capitulation. Referring to Iran’s regional influence and the allegations made by foreign governments regarding the issue, Allaii made the case that Iran’s regional influence is natural in the sense of being deeply rooted in the hearts of the region’s population, and this influence is anything but the consequence of the use of force or the imposed presence of the Qods Force in the countries of the region. While acknowledging the pivotal role played by various individuals and agencies in deepening Iran’s popularity across the region, General Alaii emphasized the fact that Iran’s regional influence is a natural and historical influence rooted in the hearts and minds of the people of the region. He went on to cite Iran’s continued popularity among the Iraqi population in spite of the presence of US troops and their training of Iraqi military and security forces as another sign of Iran’s natural influence in neighboring countries. Praising General Soleimani for his wisdom, bravery and pivotal role in shaping the developments in the region, General Alaii regarded his loss as a serious setback for Iran, but emphasized that his assassination would eventually prove a blessing in disguise for Iran, and extremely damaging to its enemies. General Alaii regarded the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the region as part of the impact of General Soleimani’s assassination.
Referring to the issue of retaliation for the assassination of General Soleimani, General Alaii called it a legitimate demand of the Iranian public, noting that this revenge is not necessarily of a violent nature, and that the expulsion of US forces from the region could be the right form of revenge for General Soleimani’s assassination. He expressed hope that General Soleimani’s blood would serve to strengthen unity among the people of the region. Emphasizing the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran has never pursued a US-fashioned imperial influence in the region, General Alaii expressed the view that Iran’s efforts have focused on enhancing unity and friendly ties among all the nations of the region.
Following General Alaii’s Speech, Dr. Nasri asked Dr. Farzad Poursaeid, member of the faculty at the Iranian Center for Strategic Studies to provide his views around the two following questions: (A) Following recent events, what would be the prospects for any rapprochement between Iran and the United States and the West in general? And (B) will the assassination of General Soleimani necessarily lead to domestic solidarity in Iran?
Having offered his condolences, Dr. Poursaeed argued that to answer this question, the event itself must be placed in its proper context. In his view, this particular event was the result of two prior events, namely the failure of the US maximum pressure campaign against Iran, and Israel’s success in persuading President Trump to disrupt the Iranian presence near its borders with Syria. Refering to the US maximum pressure campaign, Dr. Poursaeed was of the opinion that the US has now added a distinctly military component to its previously economic warfare against Iran. Regarding the Israelis’ pressure on President Trump, Dr. Poursaeed argued that Israel has recently been trying to stage a direct military confrontation between Iran and the US. To this end, and to turn Iraq and Syria into a quagmire for the Islamic Republic, Dr. Poursaeed argued, Israel has leveraged the 2020 US presidential election to convince president Trump of the importance of the issue. He went on to explore the regional and international consequences of such a policy. Regarding the former, Dr. Poursaeed was of the opinion that the United States plans to eliminate Iranian military commanders in both Iraq and Syria to exert pressure on Iran, and that Iran has to be prepared for such a scenario. Furthermore, according to Dr. Poursaeed’s view, the US might seek to start a crisis or all-out civil war In Iraq, similar to what is now taking place in Syria, to severely undermine Iran’s influence in the former. Citing several international relations experts, he put forward the argument that if Iran and Iraq could preserve their unity, Iran would become an indomitable regional force, and that the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia would do anything in their power to prevent this scenario from being realized in the first place.
Discussing the international consequences of the Israeli policy, Dr. Poursaeed opined that during the next 10-15 years, the US and western funded media will try to show that the Islamic Republic no longer represents the Iranian people, instead filling Iran’s official international posts by representatives from the opposition and introducing them as the true representatives of Iranian society to the international community. In so doing, the US seeks to delegitimize the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the world without being held accountable for such acts.
Dr. Poursaeed predicted that the long-standing hostility between Iran and the US would continue to characterize the relationship between the two countries for the next ten years or so. Referring to the public demand for avenging the assassination of General Soleimani in Iran, he argued that the timing and intensity of any retaliatory action on the part of Iran should be in such a way as to minimize the enemy’s ability to respond. Emphasizing the need for a transformation of the pro-Iran lobby in the United States, he urged that these lobbies should be defined beyond the US Democrat Party in order for Iran to have greater maneuvering space. To this end, he contended, these lobbies have to play their role from within the US power structure.
Following Dr. Poursaeed’s speech, Dr. Nasri asked Dr. Zakerian, professor of international relations at Azad Islamic University to discuss the assassination of General Soleimani from a legal perspective with a particular focus on two questions: (A) what are the legal arguments put forward by each side? And (B) how should we interpret the US action in light of its security treaty with Iraq?
After offering his condolences and thanking the organizers for holding this seminar, Dr. Zakerian highlighted the important role of such seminars in raising public awareness in other countries. He characterized the US action in assassinating General Soleimani as contrary to human rights and all the norms of international law. Referring to the two main arguments put forward by US officials to justify this terrorist act, namely preemptive action and targeted action, Dr. Zakerian offered a definition of each of these concepts and characterized the US action in assassinating General Soleimani as completely at odds with these concepts.
Furthermore, Dr. Zakerian described the terms of the security treaty between the US and Iraq, demonstrating that the US action in assassinating General Soleimani had violated the terms of that agreement as well, since General Soleimani had been visiting Iraq at the invitation of Iraqi officials, and therefore his assassination was both legally unjustifiable and contrary to the terms of the security agreement between the US and Iraq.
Then Dr. Aliakbar Asadi was ask to offer his views on the current situation in the Middle East. Having offered his condolences, Dr. Asadi argued that the Americans could assassinate General Soleimani in the past given his high-profile presence in the region, but they chose this particular time for a number of reasons including Trump’s need to divert attention from his impeachment, his efforts to break the stalemate resulting from the failure of his so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran, and finally Iran’s perceived weakness in the wake of the recent wave of public protests. Dr. Asadi went on to argue that for a long time, Israel had plans for assassinating prominent figures like General Soleimani or Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, but these plans had been temporarily shelved during Obama’s presidency because of his softer approach towards international affairs. Dr. Asadi called the assassination of General Soleimani an Israeli-Saudi machination. Elaborating on this argument, he asserted that Concerned at the prospects of a possible US disengagement from the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel had been seeking to escalate tensions between Iran and the US to ensure continued US presence in the region. He ruled out any rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, arguing that Iran’s approach towards Saudi Arabia and Israel would not be the same as before, and it could lead to a direct confrontation between the axis of resistance led by the Lebanese Hezbollah on the one hand, and Israel and Saudi Arabia on the other.
In the next part of the seminar, Dr. Nasri asked each of the four panelists to offer their views on Iran’s expected trajectory for the next three years. In response, General Alaii argued that given Saudi Arabia and Israel’s desire for enhanced US military presence in the region, avoiding direct conflict with the United States must be Iran’s strategic priority. He also expressed the opinion that survival and maintaining strategic depth are the main strategic priorities of Israel and Saudi Arabia respectively, and that given their weakness vis-à-vis Iran, they will do everything in their power to set off the US against Iran to further their own agendas. General Alaii contended that the risk of a war in the region is high, and that Iran must avoid such a risk because once such a war is started, Iran’s infrastructure would be damaged and this would bring Israel to its goal of regime change in Tehran. He continued to define Iran’s retaliation for the assassination of General Soleimani in terms of two objectives, namely the withdrawal of US troops from the region, and more importantly, sending the unequivocal message to US policy-makers that neither economic nor political pressures would bring the US any closer to its objectives vis-à-vis Iran.
Answering the same question, Dr. Poursaeed referred to three important elections within the next three years, namely Iran’s parliamentary elections of February 2020, the US presidential elections of December 2020, and the Iranian presidential elections of 2021. Emphasizing the crucial importance of reconciling the Iranian people with the ballot box, he emphasized the need for maximum participation rate in the elections as an effective tool in meeting domestic and international challenges. He also predicted that from an Iranian perspective, it would be extremely unlikely that Trump be replaced by a better president. He, however, argued that while the election of such a candidate would revive hopes for reducing tensions, Trump’s reelection as the more likely scenario would most likely perpetuate the current crisis. Answering a question about the prospects of a Right-wing politician being elected as president in Iran and Trump being reelected as US president for a second term, Dr. Poursaeed predicted that tensions between the two countries would most likely continue to rise under such a scenario.
Answering the question about Iran’s trajectory for the next three years, Dr. Zakerian expressed the view that both the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic should learn to use time to their advantage and to turn potential threats into opportunities. He also argued that it is crucially important that the Iranians reconcile with the Islamic Republic, and that the Islamic Republic adjust its policies in response to the rightful demands of the Iranian people.
Answering the same question, Dr. Asadi described Iran’s strategy since Trump took office. He characterized Iran’s strategy during Trump’s presidency as “strategic patience”, but argued that this strategic patience had been seen by the Trump administration as a sign of weakness, and thus Iran had decided to respond firmly to US provocations. He emphasized the necessity of a firm Iranian response to the recent US aggression, arguing that Iran’s silence on such US actions could encourage the latter to intensify its pressure on Iran in different arenas. Dr. Asadi was of the opinion that Iran’s response must be calibrated so as to fall below the so-called US red line while being sufficiently strong to deter the US from further escalation. He noted that such a delicate task should be carried out by military experts and strategists.
The panel concluded with a Q&A session between the attendants and the panelists.